South of France – holiday

South of France sunsetThere are two times when the light in the South of France changes the landscape to something magical and slightly other-worldly.

One is at sunset, when the sky rapidly moves from a washed out dusk to a shortlived series of startling reds and oranges. The other occurs during the day, when the hills around where we stayed last week achieved a remarkable measure of depth, with the lines of hills appearing in the sort of steps you’d expect from a pop-up book.

It is no wonder then that the area has long been a haunt of artists, including Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso.

But all this would have been lost on me of course when, some 25 years ago, I was taken there on family holidays. We went maybe six or seven times, so it felt like the only place we ever went on holiday, and my brother and I become well acquainted with the arduous drive, first to Dover to catch a ferry across the Channel, and then the slog down the length of France.

We went to the same area around St Tropez again last week during the half term holidays. This time it was for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary – very much a three-line whip on attending, not least because they paid for the villa we all stayed in and for us to get there.

The week passed in a bit of a blur. We didn’t take our first son abroad until he was three and a half, and his first holidays consisted of travelling around the UK to stay with friends. So managing with a baby and an older child was challenging, but more because of their different needs.

The travelling itself went fine. Baby K fell asleep both times the EasyJet flight took off and, apart from a bit of wriggling, took to flying like a pro. A on the other hand was pacified for a time with his Nintendo DS.

Once there though he couldn’t get enough of the pool, or the beach, or if those failed – and we were sorting K out – his Nintendo DS again.

A managed with day trips to Grasse, famous for its perfume (though I ‘neglected’ to tell him that until we arrived). The International Museum of Perfume, complete with machines that simulated different smells kept him surprisingly entertained and he even bought himself a fancy soap at one of the many shops there. For me it was a bit of a strange place to visit so soon after reading Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. A part of the novel is set there, when the murderous lead character journeys to the town to learn his perfumier’s craft, making you wonder what might lurk around the corners.

What else was there? Dealing with the peages (toll motorway system) and driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – only the second time I’ve done that – all passed pretty smoothly. There was quite a bit of driving, and we found a radio station whose favourite artists were The Police, Depeche Mode and Genesis. It turns out that ‘Phil Collins’ sounds much funnier when said in a French accent.

I got precious little reading done, but did get to practice my French a little, though at tricky points it would be the Bengali word or phrase that would pop into my head. At one point I very nearly told a waiter, ‘amar mone hoy ma femme le canard khabe,’ stopping myself just in time.

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